The current pandemic is taking an emotional toll on just about everyone. Most of us have been cut off from our workplaces and friends, and in some cases our families and our livelihoods. Too many of us have lost loved ones. All of us have lost whatever certainty we had about the future.
Although the coronavirus is an unprecedented event in our lifetimes, we have seen large societal crises in the past -- 9/11 and SARS, to name just two examples. Psychologists have studied people's responses to these events and learned how the most resilient among us handle them, Tracy S. Hutchinson explains in a Psychology Today post.
That research can tell us what we all should be doing now to get through this crisis and this period of social distancing with our emotional health intact. Hutchinson makes 10 research-based recommendations. Here are my favorites:
1. They limit their exposure to the news.
It's oh-so-tempting to check on coronavirus trackers several times a day, to get the latest statistics on how many people have been diagnosed with Covid-19, and how many have died. The truth is that while we do need to know what's going on, most of us don't need to check the news every hour to find out the absolute latest developments.
Researchers have found that heightened news consumption is a predictor that someone will respond badly to a crisis, Hutchinson writes. This is because an excess of bad news can trigger our fight-or-flight response, she explains. After 9/11, she writes, research found that those who watched the news for several hours a day were likelier to have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and physical problems two to three years later. This is why experts suggest picking one trusted source for updated information, the Centers for Disease Control, for example, and reading the news one time a day.
2. They don't spend too much time on social media.
Cut off from our usual social circles and spending most of our time at home, many of us are naturally turning to social media to feel more connected and to fill up our days. But research has consistently shown that too much social media use -- particularly Facebook -- will worsen your emotional mood.
Worse, social media is frequently used, intentionally or not, to spread inaccurate or invented news stories, and because of the way these platforms' algorithms work, the more upsetting a story is the likelier it is to spread. Research on 3,890 college students who were in a lockdown because of an active shooter found that social media quickly became a source for upsetting and untrue rumors.
3. They focus on self-care.
Self-care begins with self-compassion, which is extremely important for all of us right now. Most of us are experiencing a mass of mostly negative emotions and the resilient among us know to accept those feelings as normal. They also know not to understand and accept that emotional fallout from the pandemic means most of us are not as productive as we normally would be.
Self-care also means caring for your physical self, with plenty of exercise, nutritious food and sleep. Perhaps most important, self-care means doing what you must to get the level of social support that's right for you, which could be a nightly phone call with a family member, or the occasional get-together by video chat, and many things in-between. Different approaches may be right for you, depending on your personality and social inclinations. The important thing is to figure out what you need, and then make sure you get it.